Those who believe in the deification of man are often accused of being "un-Christian" or polytheists. Critics point out how arrogant it is to think one could supplant God, and allege a lack of biblical foundation for the belief. This sort of exclusion from the ranks of Christianity is prevalent in works such as Ed Decker’s The Godmakers or Walter Martin’s Kingdom of the Cults, but is it justified in Christian tradition or scripture?
Far from it.
Rather, the confusion and exclusion seem to stem from an issue of doctrine and definition confusion, specifically concerning the terms "God" and "god" – representing the God of worship and the human potential, respectively. Many Catholics or Protestants have an existing view of the former in their belief set, but this is where the concept of divinity ends. They may believe mankind has the ability to attain a higher degree of existence after death, but they do not apply the word "god" to such a status – and this is precisely what differentiates them from religions such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or the Eastern Orthodox Church. The doctrine of the deification of man, however, cannot be understood by applying internal definitions to an external concept; things need to be kept "in-house" in a doctrinal sense.
If we were to apply this advice and continue the example of the LDS Church, it is interesting to consider that Latter-day Saints claim to believe in only one God – at the same time they accept the doctrine of the deification of man. To quote Elder Boyd K. Packer, one of the current members of the LDS Quorum of the Twelve:
"The Father is the one true God=. This thing is certain: no one will ever ascend above Him; no one will ever replace Him. Nor will anything ever change the relationship that we, His literal offspring, have with Him. He is Elohim, the Father. He is God. Of Him there is only one. We revere our Father and our God; we worship Him."
This view is, of course, similar to the view of many Catholics and Protestants – close enough, in fact, that I am confident many of them would view it as incompatible with what they understand to be Mormonism’s attempt to "dethrone God" via human deification. On the contrary, however, there is no reason such doctrine would imply the worship of anyone but God the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ. Human deification is not the supplanting of the existing God, but the fulfillment of what is seen as man’s potential to become holy and one with Christ – a belief commonly known as theosis.
Many modern "popular" Christians would be surprised to find theosis was actually a rampant belief in the early Christian Church (i.e., directly following Christ’s ministry) as demonstrated in the statements of early Christian scholars such as Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Justin Martyr, Athanasius of Alexandria, Augustine of Hippo, Jerome, and others. This has led many Christian scholars to recognize the doctrine of human deification as actually being closer to the ancient Church than prevalent modern views. Ernst Benz, for example, stated the following concerning the Latter-day Saints: "One can think what one wants of this doctrine of progressive deification, but one thing is certain: with this anthropology Joseph Smith is closer to the view of man held by the ancient Church than the precursors of the Augustinian doctrine of original sin.
Although some may be quick to point out the existence of external influences on the early church (e.g., Middle Platonic and Gnostic beliefs, Greek and Roman emperors, etc.), there is more than enough evidence to demonstrate an independent theosis in the Judaeo/Christian tradition not necessarily manipulated by these.
Additionally, theosis is supported biblically., although there are always interpretation issues in such claims. Granted, within the context of creeds and tradition, Protestants and Catholics will view the claimed biblical support for theosis differently, but such is beside the point. The issue here is not to "disprove" different interpretations but to show there is sufficient biblical framework to understand how those attempting to follow Christ before or without the creeds were/are able to embrace the doctrine of theosis.
Given the history of theosis in the Judaeo/Christian tradition and scripture, there is obvious room for the doctrine of the deification of man within the bounds of Christianity – no matter how odd this may seem within the prevalent modern views.
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